Astrometry and Orbits of Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.

M. W. Buie, W. M. Grundy, and D. J. Tholen.
AJ 146, 152 (2013).


We present new Hubble Space Telescope observations of three of Pluto's outer moons, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. This work revises previously published astrometry of Nix and Hydra from 2002 to 2003. New data from a four-month span during 2007 include observations designed to better measure the positions of Nix and Hydra. A third data set from 2010 also includes data on Nix and Hydra as well as some pre-discovery observations of Kerberos. The data were fitted using numerical point-spread function (PSF) fitting techniques to get accurate positions but also to remove the extended wings of the Pluto and Charon PSFs when working on these faint satellites. The resulting astrometric data were fitted with two-body Keplerian orbits that are useful for short-term predictions of the future positions of these satellites for stellar occultation and for guiding encounter planning for the upcoming New Horizons flyby of the Pluto system. The mutual inclinations of the satellites are all within 0.°2 of the plane of Charon's orbit. The periods for all continue to show that their orbits are near but distinct from integer period ratios relative to Charon. Based on our results, the period ratios are Hydra:Charon = 5.98094 ± 0.00001, Kerberos:Charon = 5.0392 ± 0.0003, and Nix:Charon = 3.89135 ± 0.00001. Based on period ratios alone, there is a trend of increased distance from an integer period ratio with decreasing distance from Charon. Our analysis shows that orbital uncertainties for Nix and Hydra are now low enough to permit useful stellar occultation predictions and for New Horizons encounter planning. In 2015 July, our orbits predict a position error of 60 km for Nix and 38 km for Hydra, well below other limiting errors that affect targeting. The orbit for Kerberos, however, still needs a lot of work as its uncertainty in 2015 is quite large at 22,000 km based on these data.

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